Equipment envy is a dangerous thing. Particularly in an age when the global techno-world appears to be increasingly focused on the “er’s” as a primary goal. Faster, smaller, larger capacity, quicker trigger, speedier download. The end result is a perhaps unconscious weight placed on the tool rather than its use.
Obviously, as my daughter would say, this is a “First World” problem. But it is a problem. It is a further widening of the separation between the “haves” and the rest of us. My real concern is that the globally we are losing some powerful creativity and the positive good inspiration breeds.
This rose from a kitchen discussion with a child who even in high school tells me about her day. Yesterday’s blue note stemmed from her powerful sense of being the “other.” Her photographer position on the school newspaper is a credit course, and yesterday assignments were being discussed with a cataloging of the student’s equipment. My daughter’s little Canon Powershot was no match for the others’ Nikon digital SLRs. Unlike in my day, there is no “staff” equipment.
This of course produced a surge of mixed response. “Christmas is coming.” “Let’s see what we can do,” and then I downshifted into my artist-teacher mode. My daughter patiently stood through my creativity-gift rant. Mentally replaying the conversation later, I realize it isn’t just the urge to salve my child’s hurt. It is what I believe.
I believe everyone, particularly children should be provided with the best possible materials, a respect for those materials, and the freedom to create. “Best possible” refers to clean paper and sharpenable pencils provided without nag. My students always hear me demand, “Only draw on one side of the paper!” This teaches not only respect for the material, but the worth of her or his work.
I believe the opportunity to create is more important than either materials or the end result. Feeding the urge to create without restraint builds a muscle-memory to reach for beauty and learn the difference between failure and learning. Passion becomes a norm.
I absolutely believe in the magic of having an “eye.” This is what distinguishes the artist from the technician, and has nothing to do with equipment. Decades ago I was gutsy enough to approach the wonderful Yousuf Karsh after a lecture with “What kind of equipment do I need to be a great photographer?” I cherish the memory of his warm smile as he said, “My dear, the camera doesn’t really matter as long as your lens is clean, and you always take more pictures than you think you need. But most important is the eye. The artist’s eye is not a machine, it cannot be taught–it is a gift from God, and I think I see it,” and then he winked.
I also believe this gift of the artist’s eye is present in many and can be nurtured just as easily as it is so often squelched by a lack of materials and the even more soul-stomping lack of freedom and support. I’ve seen what happens when children are given even the simplest of tools and the permission to try. The shift from torpidity to reaching for wonder is visible.
Several years ago, my daughter and I were about to enter the National Zoo when she suddenly ran across Connecticut Avenue. She had spotted an elderly man sitting on a milk crate under an awning, playing what looked like a Vietnamese đàn gáo. I watched as she approached, circled and took several shots. Watching the mix of respect and intent as she moved from across the street was like watching an old film of myself. I didn’t need to see the photographs, I saw the magic. More important, when she came back across the road, I could see she felt that magic. The beauty of spotting a shot and going for it. The integral core of the photographer’s eye.
So because I’m one of the fortunate, I’ll see to it my daughter receives the equipment she wants at Christmas. I’ll also cherish that she already has what she needs. And certainly put more of my resources into helping that magic emerge elsewhere.